Ukrainian officials are investigating whether the deadly crash of a Kyiv-bound passenger jet in Iran which killed 176 people could have been caused by a missile or terrorist attack.
Oleksiy Danylov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security Council, said on Thursday that Kyiv was negotiating with Iran to allow its experts access to the site south-west of Tehran where the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 crashed minutes after take-off early on Wednesday.
Mr Danylov wrote on Facebook that Ukraine’s investigators wanted to search the crash site for any missile debris, possibly from a Russian-made Tor anti-aircraft missile, after seeing pictures allegedly of fragments online. Other possible explanations for the crash include a mid-air collision with a drone or an engine explosion due to mechanical failure, he added.
Kyiv’s 45-strong team, which arrived in Tehran on Thursday, includes experts from the Dutch-led international investigation into the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing-777 by a Russian-made missile over eastern Ukraine in 2014.
“We will use everything we learned investigating the attack on the MH17 Boeing to establish the truth in the case of the crash of the Ukrainian plane in Tehran,” Mr Danylov wrote.
Iranian officials initially claimed the plane crashed because of “technical failure following a fire” on the flight. The incident came hours after Tehran launched missile strikes against US forces in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Soleimani. Iran now says it will wait for the results of the investigation before commenting further on the causes of the crash.
Ukraine’s embassy in Tehran initially said the crash was caused by engine failure, then deleted the statement and replaced it with one saying “any statements about the reasons for the crash made before the commission’s decision are unofficial.”
Iran said speculation that its forces attacked the plane by accident were “ridiculous” and a “sheer lie”.
Ali Abedzadeh, head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, said the aircraft ascended to 8,000 feet before abruptly fading from radar screens. The plane turned back towards the airport, but pilots did not issue an emergency message. Witnesses saw the plane catch fire in mid-air before it exploded on impact, Mr Abedzadeh said.
Investigators recovered both of the plane’s flight recorders, which suffered partial damage in the crash, but believed their core memory was recoverable, he added.
Mr Abedzadeh said Tehran had sent information about the crash to authorities in the US, where the plane was manufactured, and Ukraine, as well as Canada and Sweden, which respectively lost 63 and 10 of their citizens in the disaster.
Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, said in a televised address that he would push for other countries to be granted access when he spoke to his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani later on Thursday
Urging the media to avoid speculation, Mr Zelensky said: “And I ask everyone — and especially when Ukraine is facing information warfare [from Russia] — to refrain from manipulation, speculation, conspiracy theories, hasty categorical evaluations and untested versions.
“This is not a topic for hype, social networking, sensations, and conspiracy theories. We need patience, endurance and wisdom,” he added.
UIA flight 752 took off at 6:13am local time on Wednesday, half an hour behind schedule, then five minutes later crashed over a suburb 35km south-west of Tehran. The last maintenance check on Monday uncovered no faults with the 737-800, which UIA purchased from Boeing in 2016. The airline claimed the pilots were highly experienced at flying the 737 and dismissed suggestions pilot error could have led to the crash.
Flight 752 is the third Boeing jet to crash in the past 18 months. Shares in the company fell 1.8 per cent in New York on Wednesday, with the aviation sector broadly hit by concerns about the impact on the industry of the escalating Middle East tensions. Several major airlines had already rerouted flights to avoid Iranian and Iraqi airspace before the crash. Ukraine banned its airlines from flying over Iran until the investigation is completed.